Georgian Orthodox Church - between the North and the West
Certain groups within the state-funded Georgian Orthodox Church - GOC (with an annual grant-in-aid of some 25 million GEL, or 7.1 million EUR) - are well known for spreading myths that the West is at odds with Georgian culture and values.
The recent development in such myths come from the Metropolitan Bishop of Vani and Baghdati, Anton Bulukhia, who claimed there is an orchestrated attack against the Church from those who support LGBT rights, financed by the West/Europe. Expressing his views, Bishop Anton suggested putting this issue on the Holy Synod’s agenda “in order to arrange a new referendum to ask the people whether we want such a kind of Europe”. This goes hand-in-hand with the Kremlin narrative that portrays Georgia’s culture, religion and history as incompatible with the West. However, after public outrage on social media, Bishop Anton reframed his position by stating that he is not against the West, rather he opposes the CSOs and individuals financed by Western donors, who fight the Church.
Surprisingly, this is the same Bishop Anton who claimed to be an ardent supporter of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and worried about the threats coming from Slavic (Russian) propaganda. Bishop Anton also participated in the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit in 2017 in Brussels, and later established a youth center in his eparchy, which aimed at raising young people’s awareness of the EU.
There are a lot of cases of the GOC (or parts of the GOC) amplifying Russian disinformation narratives, or at least being reluctant to go against them. Remarkably, most of the high-level clergymen (Metropolitans, Archbishops) have studied in Russian theological institutions. In 2019, the GOC famously refused to recognize the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in line with the Russian Orthodox Church. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the clergymen have also voiced anti-Western positions and spread disinformation.
According to public opinion polls from the NDI, GOC popularity is still high and it ranks second in performance compared to other Georgian institutions. Therefore, the GOC plays an important role in forming public opinion as believers may be influenced by clergymen’s anti-Western ideas and their sermons against Europe.